For Immediate Release: March 6, 2007
President Bush’s trip to Latin America is a unique opportunity to urge Latin American governments to support and protect human rights defenders, Human Rights First, a New York-based human rights advocacy group, said today. President Bush will be visiting Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, and Uruguay from March 8 to 14.
“Human rights defenders in Latin America are an endangered species” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “In Colombia, in particular, the climate of intimidation under President Alvaro Uribe’s government is pervasive.”
In President Bush’s second inaugural speech, he spoke of those defending human rights worldwide, saying: “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Human rights defenders in Latin America now need President Bush to stand with them.
In 2005 alone at least 41 Colombian human rights defenders were assassinated or forcibly “disappeared,” according to a report by the Colombian Commissions of Jurists. In a letter to President Bush, Human Rights First highlighted its concern that President Uribe’s public statements are contributing to a climate of increased danger for Colombian human rights activists. Remarks made February 3 in which Uribe said some members of the political opposition were “terrorists in business suits” promoted a series of death threats against Colombian human rights organizations by re-grouped paramilitaries. (See recent HRF press release.)
In Guatemala, 98 per cent of the nearly 300 annual attacks against human rights defenders are reportedly not investigated and only a handful of cases have resulted in convictions. Activists who are seeking justice for crimes committed during the 36 year civil war, which ended in 1996, are regularly kidnapped, threatened and robbed. (See HRF letter to US Ambassador.)
The Guatemalan Congress needs to ratify an agreement with the United Nations to establish an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). CICIG would investigate and promote the prosecution of powerful illegal armed groups which are allegedly responsible for attacks against human rights defenders as well as being involved in corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and political violence.